The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries issued a proclamation to close these waters to large-mesh gill nets earlier this week after the DMF observers reported six interactions between turtles and nets in Topsail and Stump sounds and the New and White Oak rivers since late May. Two were Kemps Ridley turtles, three were green turtles and one species was observed in a net but escaped before it could be identified.
Large-mesh gill nets are classifieds as gill nets with a closed mesh measurement of 4 to 6 ½ inches; they are used primarily as flounder nets in this particular area.
Using large-mesh gill nets in North Carolina waters is governed by management measures included in a lawsuit-settlement agreement between the state and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Section 10 of the ESA has provisions that allow limited incidental takes of species encountered in an otherwise lawful activity, and in the past, the DMF has had an Incidental Take Permit for sea turtles in the Pamlico Sound Restricted Gill Net Area. However, that ITP expired several years ago, and the DMF sought an ITP for all internal coastal areas.
"It is my understanding the permit process for the new ITP is nearing completion," said Chris Batsavage, DMF's Protected Resources Section Chief. "I am hopeful the process will be completed and the ITP issued by Sept. 1."
The closure could remain in place past Sept. 1, if the ITP is not issued and sea turtle activity is still high. That's also the date when the flounder gill-net season is scheduled to open in the PSRGNA. Batsavage said that season will not open unless the ITP has been issued.
This closure does not apply to run-around, strike or drop nets that are used to surround a school of fish and are immediately retrieved. The proclamation, M-20-2013, can be seen at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/proclamations.
Batsavage said that anyone with questions on this closure or the pending ITP is welcome to contact him at 252-808-8009 or Chris.Batsavage@ncdenr.gov.